Practical experiments in school science lessons and science field trips - Science and Technology Committee Contents

4  Engaging with the science community

95. We wanted to know how well the science community provided the means for teachers to enhance and enrich the science they taught with opportunities to experience real science and to see the interesting things that science might lead them to in later life.

96. In evidence to the inquiry we have received notice of a plethora of resources, often produced independently by the science community, to support science in schools and to provide enhancement and enrichment opportunities.[151] Paul Cohen of the Training and Development Agency told us that:

In preparing for this session, I was rather overwhelmed by the number of different organisations and websites that are available. I am not in a position to say whether that is confusing for teachers, but clearly it is a bit of a challenge to navigate if you are not an expert, I would have thought.[152]

Beth Gardner of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom told us that:

We are trying to have a coherent offer by the whole sector, because schools have told us that things are quite disparate out there, they are being approached by all sorts of different people and it is confusing.[153]

97. Written submissions to the inquiry mentioned or promoted resources or events that individual organisations offered to teachers and schools. We see a real danger that there could be too many choices and not enough guidance on what may be of particular use to teachers, possibly leading to teachers seeing enrichment and enhancement activities as too time consuming to evaluate or utilise properly.

98. Sir Roland Jackson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, accepted that organisations like his Association, "who feel very passionately about particular areas of science" and want to make opportunities available to young people, could nevertheless result in confusion. He indicated, however, there was a recognition among such organisations that there had to be more coherence on provision.[154] Sir Roland cited the STEM Directories as an example of a project to create greater coherence among providers of enhancement and enrichment activity. He considered that co-ordination of resources was the science community's responsibility and did not think that "anyone can do it for us".[155]

99. We are surprised that not one of the written submissions to the inquiry mentioned the STEM Directories in any detail and only the Department mentioned them in passing. Not even the Royal Institution, which has been responsible for producing and delivering the Directories, first in hard copy and in recent years as a website, cited the Directories to us as a useful tool for the dissemination of information. The Directories would appear to be an ideal central point for teachers to consult when considering what activities might be suitable for any particular group of students. In supplementary evidence requested from the Royal Institution, it said

The Directories contain information about all the national and regional STEM [Enhancement & Enrichment] schemes, but not those at the local level. Also, one of the criteria in setting up the Directories was that there should be a 'warm body' at the end, i.e. online resources with no human contact were not included. We are fairly certain that nearly all [Enhancement & Enrichment] providers are included in the Directories. [...] The Ri believes that the Directories are an essential resource for the science teaching community, and it would be a great pity if funding could not be found to ensure that they have an increased profile in schools, are regularly kept up-to-date and are continually developed in response to teacher feedback.[156]

100. The Royal Institution has required some evaluation of all opportunities to be carried out and presented on the Directories website to allow teachers to get a better idea of the education opportunities provided.[157] We consider the STEM Directories to be exactly the resource that the Government needs to encourage. The Royal Institution has told us, however, that after the initial three year contract, the Government has only extended the contract for one year.[158]

101. The Government should seek to secure the long term future of the STEM Directories as a tool to encourage good quality enhancement and enrichment activity, reduce gaps in provision and facilitate more providers and schools to participate. The relatively small amount of money involved should be found directly by Government or by encouraging sponsorship within the science community and providers of enhancement and enrichment activities.

102. We have been told that the science community is keen to organise itself as far as communicating opportunities to educational establishments are concerned. We recommend that science organisations build on the STEM Directories[159] and the similar Getting Practical website[160] as useful starting points in providing gateways through which teachers might more easily engage with enrichment and enhancement activities.

151   Enhancement and enrichment activities is the catch-all term to cover the variety of provisions made by science organisations for field trips and fieldwork for schoolchildren Back

152   Q 52  Back

153   Q 87  Back

154   Q 88  Back

155   As above Back

156   Ev w34-35 Back

157   Ev w34 Back

158   Ev w35 Back

159   The STEM Directories,  Back

160   Getting Practical website,  Back

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Prepared 14 September 2011